Art conservation graduate programs include between one and three years of coursework with internships as potential fourth year options. During an art conservation graduate program of study, students investigate the historic and cultural aspects of artifacts as well as research and implement different preservation techniques that have been used in the past as well as those that are in use today. Students also keep up with potential changes to the field as it continues to develop.
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What Does a Graduate Degree in Art Conservation Include?
Students interested in the advanced study of art conservation can pursue a Master of Art or Master of Science degree in art conservation, depending on the school where the program is offered. Doctoral degree programs in the field are also available. The curriculum is comparable across these degrees and includes coursework that introduces students to theories and practices of conservation and preservation, aspects of deterioration, and cultural and historical principles of protecting and conserving artifacts. As degree programs progress, students work directly with artwork, documents, furniture, and other artifacts as they learn how to examine, prepare, and best handle pieces. Through fieldwork and possible internship opportunities, students bring together theories and actualities of conservation as they hone their skills. Common course topics are outlined below.
Material Science of Art
Courses that emphasize the science behind art and archaeology, and the preservation of both, cover the chemistry and physics of the materials found in art over time. Material science coursework provides students with a background and understanding of organic and inorganic materials found in art and archaeology, how those materials break down over time, and the tools needed to conserve and restore them.
Principles of Conservation
Principles of restorative and preventative conservation of art, material objects, and archaeological artifacts covered in theoretical courses emphasize the assessment, techniques, and ethics behind working with material culture. Coursework can be split into several different classes, each with a specialization on a specific type of art or historical period.
Coursework on preventative conservation addresses how to keep art and other historical objects from deteriorating before it happens. By covering proper care, storage, display, and transportation of items, preventative conservation provides students with the tools necessary to keep paintings, furniture, sculptures, and other items safe. Students learn about potential weather and climate issues, light and air pollution problems, and other biological threats artwork may face.
Students learn how to handle historical objects, including paintings, sculptures, and archaeological artifacts, as they clean, preserve, and restore them. Hands-on experience prepares students to work in the field as they actively solve problems related to conservation and restoration in a supervised setting. Students may specialize in a specific type of art or historical item.
Seminar in Art Conservation
Graduate seminars in art conservation are intended to give students the chance to work on a highly specialized topic. Students may be required to report upon their work with paintings, sculptures, metalworks, wood objects, or other historical objects in a way that emphasizes terminology and effective communication. Seminars may also include an emphasis on art and objects from a specific historical period or geographical location.
What Does It Take to Get Into an Art Conservation Graduate Program?
Admission to a master's or doctoral degree program in art conservation requires students to have an undergraduate degree. Fields related to art or art conservation (including, but not limited to chemistry, art, art history, or cultural studies) are preferred if not required. If students do not have a degree in a related field, they are expected to meet course prerequisites prior to the start of a program. Students may need to show evidence of laboratory experience, writing proficiency, and foreign language knowledge. Programs also require GRE scores, letters of recommendation, a resume, a statement of purpose, and a formal application for graduate study.